It used to be that sex was the mysterious subject
not discussed by women socially. A woman's sexuality was unpleasant
and forbidden, but at the same time mysterious and fascinating.
Sex was the topic in the foreground of women's minds, yet remained
in the unexplored depths of conversation. Ever since the sexual
revolution, though, food has been replacing sex as women's secret
subject. Strong desires to eat replaced the intense, repressed
desires to "do it," and eating became the thing about
which every woman would fantasize but not discuss. By putting
sex and food together in the category of erotic forbidden pleasures,
the two became linked in a way. Today the act of eating is frequently
compared to the act of having sex. The association is largely
based on the taboo status of the two topics.
In the 1950s, the women of America had yet
to discover their hidden sexuality. Rosalyn Meadow and Lillie
Weiss write that "[s]ex was both forbidden and unattainable,
a subject of fantasy and mystery, with the promise of delicious
ecstasy at some illusive future time"(51). As women learned
more about it, sex shed the guilt-ridden stigma of a taboo and
passed it on to food. Jeremy Iggers provides an appropriate analogy:
"In the fifties, good girls didn't have sex; today good girls
don't have chocolate" (110). This point is very well illustrated
in Henry Jaglom's film, Eating (1990). In the particular
scene, a room is filled with about thirty women who are attending
a birthday party. The birthday cake is cut and the women, who
are arranged in a circle, pass one piece of cake all the way around
the room. Every woman touches the plate, but nobody eats the cake.
The scene goes to show the women's inhibitions of being perceived
as "loose" with food, being the "bad" girl.
Eating took the role of women's guilty pleasure, which carried
the potential to have devastatingly noticeable effects. Failure
to resist the allure of sex was manifested in pregnancy whereas
failure to resist the temptations of food results in obesity.
In both cases, the evidence is readily apparent to everybody the
woman encounters, which fuels the power of shame associated with
Finally, due to the close parallels between
food and sex, eating can be construed as a form of sexual intercourse.
The experience begins with anticipation of a good meal, with foreplay
initiated by the appearance and aromas of the food. Intercourse
takes place in chewing, tasting and savoring, and climaxes in
swallowing, all followed by a warm contented sensation. One of
the women in Eating demonstrates the association by referring
to eating as the "safest sex" she can have.
By replacing sex as women's taboo subject,
food has simply changed the location of their guilty pleasures,
from genital to oral (Meadow 102). There will continue to be
girls and "bad" girls and those stigmatized by their
choices. Women will continue to be afraid of publicly discussing
the subject of food until the next taboo topic comes about.
Dir. Henry Jaglom. International Rainbow Films, 1990.
Iggers, Jeremy. The Garden of Eating: Food,
Sex and the Hunger for Meaning. New York: BasicBooks, 1996.
Meadow, Rosalyn M. and Lillie Weiss. Women's
Conflicts About Eating and Sexuality: The Relationship Between Food
and Sex. New York: Harrington Press,
Meadow, Rosalyn M. and Lillie Weiss. Women's Conflicts About Eating and Sexuality: The Relationship Between Food and Sex. New York: Harrington Press, 1992.